Leeds KONP tomorrow and Yorkshire Health campaigns together Friday – join us

Leeds KONP, 28th October, 6.30 pm

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/2105892452?pwd=MDJwdDAvS1UrQnpBMS9ZbnVDZXR3dz09

Meeting ID: 210 589 2452 Passcode: 858183

  1. Discussion of the latest news – introduced by John
  2. Review of recent events, particularly the Trade Deals Day of Action
  3. Updates re  ongoing campaigns including  migrant charges, social care campaign
  4. Planning future events
  5. Info re upcoming meetings and other campaigns including schools meals paper plate protest this Saturday.

Yorkshire Health Campaigns together , Friday 30th October 4-5.30pm

Suggested agenda, contact us for Zoom info

  1. Discussion of the latest  news,  introduced by John
  2. Campaign Updates- pay justice, migrant charging, trade deals, social care, privatisation, test and waste etc
  3. Local reports
  4. Future events
  5. AOB

Help us scrutinise Leeds and West Yorkshire health planning

We know how difficult it is for everyone trying to manage the impact of COVID and we welcome volunteers to help attend virtual council or local/regional health planning meetings to hold decision makers to account. If you have some spare time, we can help you with submitting questions and the meeting procedures. Please contact us. We can always use extra pairs of hands to support us with virtual activities on social media and the website so if that’s more your thing, we welcome all offers of assistance.

Updates

We were very pleased to welcome medics to our meeting on 14th October to campaign against charging migrants and other people with undocumented status  for health care. We shared progress in Leeds and agreed to keep in close touch. John has been offered a meeting with Donna Kinnear,  General Sec of the RCN ( Royal College of Nursing ) who is chairing an independent review set up by West Yorks and Harrogate Integrated Health Partnership  to look at the  disproportionate effect of Covid on BAME staff. The Board agreed that it would be relevant to consider concerns re migrant charges. Feedback and more info in the  next newsletter at the end of the month.

Meanwhile the New Economics Foundation and Patients  Not Passports have launched new research: “The International Struggle for Universal Healthcare” — an investigation into the movements across Europe fighting against the exclusion of migrants from healthcare. The report looks at how and why migrants have their right to healthcare restricted, and focuses on the practical lessons that we can all learn about the fight to defend universal access to health. Read it online and please share it widely in your networks. There  a webinar to launch the report on 27th October 7-8.30pm registration link and  (more details )

We also discussed  the  disastrously inadequate, largely privatised test and  trace system stumbling from bad to worse,  the sadly predictable consequences for  schools and universities , confusion, mixed messaging and the Government ignoring the SAGE scientist’s recommendation of  a total shut down or circuit breaker  which the Labour Party is supporting.

The issue of funding those who have to self- isolate remains crucial to compliance. John has asked  LTHT is they can guarantee full pay to their  own staff plus bank  and outsourced staff.  A local campaigner said that a Govt scheme to offer £500 to people who have to isolate just isn’t  working . You have to have bank slips, pay slips etc.  She is organising for a member of Public Health England to speak on test and trace at a local labour Party meeting  in Harrogate.

Upcoming local  meetings  

  • John  is speaking at the Leeds People Not profit  Not Profit launch of an Emergency programme for Jobs, Services and safety along with MP Richard Burgon, Vicky Blake  Secretary  of UCU ( University  and College Union) , Sarah Wooley, General  Sec of the Bakers Union et al .  Meeting ID: 845 1343 2783 Passcode: 768731 https://www.facebook.com/PeopleBeforeProfitLeeds/                
  • He is also speaking at a meeting organised by the Alliance Green Socialism and Global Justice Now on Tuesday 20th Oct at 7.30pm on “Stop The Toxic Trade deal with Trump”  mtg ID 932 4029 2778 passcode 453699

Stop the closure of Richmond House care home in Farsley

Please sign the petition, support the campaign and share / retweet

Richmond House is the lovely unit where one of Leeds Hospital Alert members was sent for rehab a couple of years ago.  It was new build and absolutely lovely.  The staff were great and the care they received second to none.  The beds in Richmond House must be in demand, is it calculated policy which is keeping them empty?

We must do everything we can to save this Home, please sign the petition and support this campaign to stop the Council using cuts as a reason for closure. We need this more than ever.

Full details https://westleedsdispatch.com/petition-launched-to-save-threatened-farsley-care-home/

Join us for Docsnotcops special at LeedsKONP tomorrow 6.30pm

a special shout out for our next Leeds Keep Our NHS Public meeting on Wednesday 14th October at 6.30pm as we have Dr. Rachel Kerr coming along to talk about work to end the hostile environment in the NHS. As you probably know this involves not just charging migrants and other people with undocumented status for health care but reporting non payers to the Home Office and frightening people into not using health services.

Rachel and colleagues are trying to set up a Leeds /Bradford group of “Docs Not Cops”. It will be really interesting to hear what they are planning and discuss how we can work closely together.

Draft agenda:

6.30 – 7.15 Docs not Cops discussion

7.15 – 7.35 Hot news and discussion re the pandemic and the Government response

  1. 35 -7.45 Update on events since the last meeting including launch of the KONP/ SHA campaign for a National Care, Support & Independent Living Service ( see recording below) West Yorks joint CCG mtg. and new Freedom of Info request from John to Leeds Teaching Hospital seeking assurance that staff, including bank staff and sub-contractors will receive full pay if they have to isolate

7.45 Planning our contribution to the National Day of Action against a US Trade Deal on Sat. 24th Oct.

7.55 AOB

Contact us for Zoom link

Sincere apologies to anyone who didn’t manage to join the Social Care launch above because of an unexpected limit on numbers. You can see the whole meeting on you tube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wsDY7q-rVYM&feature=youtu.be and there will be an open follow up meeting at 6pm on 2nd November to discuss how to progress the campaign.

You might also like to join the Leeds launch of an Emergency programme for Jobs, Services and safety organised by Leeds People Before profit Covid 19 Action group next Monday at 6pm. John Puntis will be one of many speakers including MP Richard Burgon if he can make it.

https://www.facebook.com/events/373799047313412/

This weekend – National Care, Support and Independent Living Service campaign and Solidarity knows no borders

  • The exciting new KONP/ SHA launch of a campaign for a National Care, Support and Independent Living Service is this Saturday 10th October 11-1pm. Please register here

    https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZYofu-urTwtHNQiVaytNPwPfsLCFGRs2dYW
  • This weekend 10th – 12th  is also a  weekend of action against the hostile environment : Solidarity Knows No Borders . There may not be a live event in Leeds but anything you can do to share and post would be great. See the newsletter . We are also hoping to have a rep from Docs Not Cops at our Leeds Keep Our NHS Public meeting next Wednesday 14th .
  • Sat October 24th is a Day of Action against a US Trade Deal. Time to start carving pumpkins very soon !   see the newsletter for more 

Do join our next Leeds Keep Our NHS Public meeting on Wednesday 14th October  at 6.30pm

Latest minutes: https://leedskeepournhspublic.files.wordpress.com/2020/10/konp-leeds-newsletter-8.10.20.pdf

 
 

Yorkshire Health Campaigns Together latest notes and key dates for the next two weeks

Yorks HCT mtg 18.9.20

Please also share this motion

Motion for organisations, party and union branches etc

Campaign for a National Care Support and Independent Living Service (NaCSILS)[1]

  • England’s social care is broken. 26% fewer people are supported than in 2010, while demand soars
  • People face isolation, indignity, maltreatment, neglect, barriers to inclusion and independent living
  • Care is marketised and privatised. Many small providers have folded; care homes are increasingly managed by unstable corporates and hedgefunds that often deliver poor care in large institutional settings while extracting massive offshore profits.
  • Disabled and elderly people who need social care and support face high charges, leaving thousands in poverty
  • Care and support doesn’t reflect users’ needs or wishes
  • Staff wages, training and conditions are at rock bottom – turnover exceeds 30%
  • 8 million unpaid, overworked family carers, including children and elderly relatives, provide vital support

This (organisation/party branch/union branch etc) demands the Government establish and new National Care, Support and Independent Living Service (NaCSILS) which is:  

  • Publicly funded, free at the point of use
  • Publicly provided, not for profit
  • Nationally mandated but designed and delivered locally
  • Co- produced with service users and democratically accountable
  • Underpinned by staff whose pay & conditions reflects true value and skills
  • Designed to meet the needs of informal carers
  • And sets up a taskforce on independent living

[1] This campaign was founded jointly by Keep Our NHS Public (KONP) and the Socialist Health Association (SHA). It has wideranging support from many organisations and individuals. For more information on the campaign,see: https://www.sochealth.co.uk/  &   https://keepournhspublic.com/

Coming up

  • This Saturday 26th September Yorkshire Socialist Health association have Allyson Pollock, academic , consultant in public health and a founder member of KONP  speaking about the pandemic, test and trace etc

Register here : https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/111800787164
Facebook event here : please sign up and share! https://www.facebook.com/events/358408625315187/

  • 3rd October  10.30 – 1pm Health Campaigns  Together AGM. Affiliates have been invited but Mike Forster is aiming to send out a link for observers , which I will circulate.

Next Yorkshire HCT meeting Friday October 30th 4-5.30pm. Zoom info to be sent with a reminder a week before the meeting .

Book review: Richard Horton – ‘The COVID-19 Catastrophe’. Polity Press; Cambridge, 2020, pp133 Dr John Puntis

https://guardianbookshop.com/the-covid-19-catastrophe-9781509546466.html

Richard Horton is Editor-in-Chief of the prestigious medical journal The Lancet, first published in 1823. In the preface to issue one, the founding editor Thomas Wakley served notice on the medical profession’s pursuit of ignorance, prejudice, and patronage and on the self-interest of its leaders.

In his writings on the pandemic, Horton shows himself a worthy successor to Wakley. The book’s subtitle is: ‘What’s gone wrong and to how to stop it happening again’. Horton has plenty of insights into what has gone wrong and provides important suggestions on how further disasters might be averted.

In this review, I quote freely from his words.

China learned the right lessons from bitter experience

A key event in the historical time line is the 2002/3 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome outbreak caused by a coronavirus (SARS-CoV-1) that infected 8,096 people and caused 774 deaths across 37 countries. Although the Chinese government was heavily criticised at the time for its handling of the outbreak, ultimately, the rapid containment of SARS worldwide was recognised by the US Institute of Medicine as a global success. It warned, however, that a recurrence would put health systems worldwide under extreme pressure and that continued vigilance was vital. This outbreak was both an international wake up call and the reason why the Chinese government was determined to do much better when COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) appeared.

Horton sets out by stating: “Chinese scientists and health workers deserve our gratitude . . . they worked tirelessly to understand the nature of this pandemic. They made it their duty to inform the WHO when they were sure there was reason to signal global alarm . . . I have observed nothing less than an extraordinary commitment to collaborate openly and unconditionally to defeat this disease.”
The Lancet is at the cutting edge of international developments in medical science and published the landmark first clinical description of COVID-19 on 24th January, 2020. The Chinese made it clear that national health systems should be urgently scaling up intensive care facilities, building stocks of personal protective equipment (PPE), and preparing for potentially high mortality.

Government inertia

Given these clear warnings, Horton considers the delayed response to COVID-19 in the UK as “the greatest science policy failure for a generation”. He attributes the complacency of our political leaders to the fact that they could not believe a virus originating in an unheard of Chinese city could have such calamitous effects in their own communities. This “appalling lack of political vigilance” was compounded by a decade of austerity, unprecedented decline in the growth of the NHS budget despite rising demand, and a public health system subjected to £1 billion of cuts since 2015.

In the US, the spectacular unpreparedness for SARS-CoV-2 was also directly related to cuts in public health and epidemic prevention planning, reflecting a broader antipathy to international interdependence, solidarity and cooperation between nations. This resulted in more people dying in the US from COVID-19 in a three month period than during the entire Vietnam war. As for the US president cutting funding to the WHO in the middle of a pandemic, Horton does not mince his words: “By attacking and weakening WHO while the agency was doing all it could to protect peoples in some of the most vulnerable countries in the world, President Trump has, in my view met the criteria for the act of violence the international community calls a crime against humanity”.

We in the UK were unprepared – fact

In the UK in 2016, Exercise Cygnus had confirmed that pandemic influenza was top of the government’s National Risk Register and that preparedness was ‘currently not sufficient to cope with extreme demands of a severe epidemic’. As one of those involved later remarked: “We learnt what would help, but did not necessarily implement those lessons”. Jeremy Hunt, then Secretary of State for Health, has attempted to absolve himself of any responsibility, but clearly there were many (like Hunt) who knew what might come but then ‘chose third party rather than fully comprehensive insurance’ presumably on grounds of cost.

Why was it that if took the government seven weeks from the last week in January to accept the seriousness of COVID-19 and then wasted the whole of February and March? Horton’s answers include preoccupation with Brexit, but he also notes that in early March, the prime minster had both recognised COVID-19 as a significant challenge and contradicted the conclusion of Exercise Cygnus by claiming that the UK was well prepared. While Johnson demonstrated he did not understand the capability of his country to address the most severe civil emergency risk on the risk register, he advised ‘taking it on the chin and letting it move through the population’, advocating hand washing and boasting about still shaking hands with everyone he met.

Scientists too get it wrong

Meanwhile, scientists advising ministers seemed to believe the new virus was much the same as influenza. One of them (Graham Medley) called for ‘a nice big epidemic’, explaining spread through the population would have the beneficial effect of generating herd immunity. This was echoed by Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific officer, who suggested that the goal was to infect 60% of the UK’s population. With a known death rate in China of 1% among those infected, this would have meant around 400,000 deaths – a figure that should not have been too challenging for top brains to work out. The mistaken belief in the similarity between influenza and SARS-CoV-2 allowed a key government committee to endorse Public Health England’s assessment of the virus as presenting only a ‘moderate risk’. This was a whole three weeks after the WHO’s declaration of a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (the most extraordinary power that a director-general of WHO possesses). Underestimation of risk was instrumental in delay in preparing the NHS for the coming wave of infection, with inadequate supplies of PPE and insufficient numbers of intensive care beds and equipment.

England’s deputy chief medical officer’s description of the UK’s state of preparedness as ‘an international exemplar’ caused astonishment. The truth, as Horton observes, was that: “The UK’s response had been slow, complacent and flat footed. The country was glaringly unprepared”. He also cites other examples of government misinformation including a denial that a policy of herd immunity was ever pursued; claiming that testing was always a priority; that older people in care homes had a protective ring thrown around them; that risk was not underestimated and lockdown was not delayed. During the ensuing chaos, frequent use of war metaphors (‘We are at war with an invisible killer’) by Matt Hancock and others created an atmosphere where dissent and criticism of government policy was discouraged, and even branded as a kind of betrayal, just as scepticism of the ludicrous operation Moonshot (10 million tests a day) is now being portrayed as disloyal and unpatriotic.

The UK failed to learn lessons

The UK missed opportunities to learn from the experiences of other countries. Horton suggests this was because the regime of science policy making was corrupted, as evidenced by its failure to act on clear and unambiguous signals from China and then from the WHO. Failing to contact colleagues in China and Hong Kong to obtain first hand testimony and not discussing with the WHO simply constitutes an abuse of entrusted power. In addition, there was unforgiveable collusion between scientists and politicians in order to protect the government and convey the illusion the UK was prepared and made all the right decisions at the right time. “Advisors became the public relations wing of a government that had failed its people”.

The government’s ‘Special Advisory Group for Emergencies’ (SAGE) quickly became known for excessive secrecy and deference to ministers, prompting Sir David King, a former Chief Scientific Advisor, to set up an independent group of scientists. Deliberations by ‘Independent SAGE’ were based on the premise that scientific advice will only be trusted by the public if the scientists are seen to be independent of government. The first meeting set a new standard for scientific policy making, characterised by openness, enthusiasm and a desire to engage with the people. Examples from which government might have learned important lessons but chose to ignore included the rapid building of ‘shelter hospitals’ providing isolation facilities for less ill patients in China; the importance of early aggressive testing and isolation of contacts (Hong Kong); widespread mask wearing; strict border controls; screening travellers entering the country (Taiwan); the importance of coordinated effort and transparency (South Korea); local management of test and trace (Germany); early escalation of risk (New Zealand).

The health service as a line of defence

Horton defines a health service as representing commitments to the empathy and responsibility we feel to one another, and standing in opposition to principles of individualism and competition. Willingness to act on behalf of others is a second feature of a health system, manifested by a belief in our interdependence, reciprocal responsibility and collective action. The whole basis of our society rests on these two principles, now sorely challenged by COVID-19. This disease must teach us to re-imagine our security as being about people and communities, about our survival, our livelihoods and our dignity. An effective health service is the most important defence we have to protect that security.

Protecting the vulnerable

Horton regards one of the lasting legacies of COVID-19 as being the silent human destruction wreaked on the most unprotected members of society, with devastation in the social care system taking place without any politician seemingly knowing or understanding what was happening. Members of the BAME community were four times more likely to die than their white counterparts, strongly related to socio-economic disadvantage. Almost two thirds of health workers who died were from an ethnic minority. Despite the very best efforts of health workers and contrary to what the government would like us to believe, the NHS did not cope. The true death toll in the population at large will also include those with symptoms of life threatening illness who did not receive the emergency care they needed. Health and care workers were left unprotected through lack of PPE while government ministers insisted on a daily basis that deliveries were being made to wherever needed. According to Horton, these statements turned out at best to be overpromises and at worst bare-faced lies, and demonstrated the hypocrisy of officials joining in with the weekly ‘clapping for our carers’.

Why did the Royal Colleges and other bodies representing the medical profession not make more noise? The reasons are unclear, but Horton considers that the leadership of medicine in the UK and many other western nations has let down those they were supposed to protect: “It was a grubby betrayal, a stain on the leadership of a profession whose frontline workers had given so much”. Another reason might be that College presidents do not like to rock the boat and often have one eye on their future knighthoods or equivalent rewards for service. As for politicians, he goes on to add that: “The message of gross incompetence is not welcome in Western political, medical or even media circles. It conflicts with a geopolitical narrative that casts China as a negative and destructive influence in international affairs . . . But to blame China and WHO for the global pandemic is to rewrite the history of COVID-19 and to marginalise the failings of Western nations”.

‘The Ghost of Christmas yet to come’

Horton is clear that the pandemic of SARS-CoV-2 will be neither the last nor the worst global health crisis of the present century, and that it is more than a crisis about health – it is a crisis about life itself. He sets out a challenge: “our task is to uncover the biographies of those who have lived and died with COVID-19 . . .to insist on a social and political critique . . . to . . . use understanding not only to change our perspective of the world but also change the world itself”. The risks we face are not just from new virus infections but the regime of science policy making. In addition, COVID-19 has seen a rebirth of the state which will: “assume an ever greater role, from reconstructing state-sector economies to expanding social protection, from creating resilient health systems . . . to investing even more generously in science”.

His view is that the virus that caused COVID-19 isn’t going away and that the best we can hope for is peaceful coexistence, while on a positive note, disasters can be catalysts for social and political change. Let us hear from a wider array of voices assessing and judging risks transparently and more critically; health systems will be constructed to be better prepared for coping with a new disease; a redistribution of esteem will recognise and reward key workers; governments will tackle inequality with energy and commitment; countries will work together to strengthen the WHO and for global health security; the determinants of a stable and sustainable society will become matters of utmost importance; policy makers will pay attention to strengthening social capital. Once we have got on top of this pandemic he asks, “can we redefine our values and goals together, can we give priority to our wellbeing over our wealth?” . . . We have to use this time for solidarity, for mutual respect and mutual concern. My health depends on your health. Your health depends on my health . . . . The post-COVID-19 age will usher in a new era of social and political relations”.

Conclusion

Horton has written an impassioned and lucid account to help us understand what has gone wrong and what may be put right. There are important lessons to be learned. If the pandemic is indeed a portal from an old world to a new one, this gives us as campaigners for our NHS a new challenge – how to frame the narrative around a movement to rebuild the NHS in a way that will energise and mobilise the mass of people who have experienced the pandemic at first hand and had their minds opened up to new possibilities. The situation is pressing – forward to a better world or backwards towards barbarism? Let us contribute to the fight by creating an inspiring and inclusive vision in order to ensure that simply because “All changed, changed utterly: A terrible beauty is born

John Puntis
Keep Our NHS Public

COVID-19 Summary of where we are now, Dr John Puntis

Still stumbling along

Policy failure

Richard Horton, editor of the prestigious medical journal ‘The Lancet’, described the management of COVID-19 as the “greatest science policy failure for a generation” in his book on the pandemic. Currently the numbers of newly diagnosed patients are steeply rising with many wondering if the government has completely lost its grip. So – four months after Johnson showed his remarkable grasp of the scientific narrative by declaring: “If this virus were a physical assailant, an unexpected and invisible mugger (which I can tell you from personal experience it is), then this is the moment when we have begun together to wrestle it to the floor” – where do things stand?

Increasing number of positive test results

In July, the lowest number of daily new positive tests recorded was 574; by 6th September 2020, this had risen alarmingly to nearly 3000 on each of two successive days, showing a sudden increase of around 50% just as schools were reopening and more workers being coaxed back into workplaces. Over the preceding few weeks, European countries such as France, Germany, Spain and the Netherlands had all seen a sharp rise in new cases, with 40% being in the younger age group. In the UK, the change in new diagnoses from predominantly elderly people to the young was even more apparent, with two thirds being in this demographic, including the steepest increase seen in 10 – 19 year olds accused of not observing social distancing.

Disillusionment

Meanwhile those with symptoms were often being told they will have to drive long distances, sometimes over a hundred miles, just to get a test. For many, this is simply not feasible, while for those who do make such a journey there is the risk of spreading infection further. At the same time statisticians have started to model the effects of NHS winter pressure combined with a second peak of coronavirus and predict that more than 100 acute hospital trusts will be operating at or above full capacity. A survey by the Doctors’ Association UK found that over 1,000 doctors were planning to quit the NHS through disillusion with the government’s management of the pandemic and frustration over pay. Recent national demonstrations calling for pay rises suggest many other NHS
staff share these concerns and are prepared to take action.

Coronavirus endemic in some cities

A new public health report leaked to the press highlighted that COVID-19 was entrenched in some northern cities, and that case numbers had never really fallen to low levels during initial lockdown. This situation was strongly associated with deprivation, poor and overcrowded accommodation and ethnicity. New cases diagnosed per 100,000 population/week varied widely round the country at 98 in Bolton (topping the league), 37 in Manchester, 29 in Leeds, and only 3 in Southampton. The implication was that local lockdown measures were not likely to be any more effective in suppressing new infections and that there was an urgent need for a new strategy including better and locally tailored responses. These should include effective ‘find, test, trace, isolate and support’ (FTTIS) systems under the control of local authorities, many of which are in despair over their poor funding, and the hopeless performance of national ‘test and trace’. Given over at huge cost to the private companies Serco and Sitel, these are still only successfully contacting 50% of contacts of known cases, a figure that, according to the official Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, should be at least 80%, with all these contacts then going into isolation.

Broader lessons

Other lessons to be learned relate to financial support for workers and isolation of those living in overcrowded housing. It is simply no good (i.e. it is ineffective as an infection control measure) to expect low paid workers often with little or no financial reserves to self isolate for two weeks with either no pay or derisory statutory sick pay – full pay must be given by employer or government. In addition, people in densely packed housing cannot effectively self isolate, and as in some other countries, need to be temporarily housed in suitable alternative accommodation. This might be reopened hotels, or the almost unused Nightingale hospitals for those with mild symptoms.

Is London different?

One question of interest is why figures have not jumped up in London where the number of new cases in different areas is between 6 and 18/100,000/week. Possible explanations are that London was initially hit very hard by COVID-19 and as a result people have remained more cautious. For example, many Londoners who are able to work from home have decided not to heed government advice to return to office buildings. Geographical disparities in numbers of cases probably also reflect the fact that in northern cities such as Bradford, Oldham, and Rochdale, there is a relatively higher proportion of the workforce in more public facing roles such as the National Health Service, taxi services, take away restaurants, etc. Antibody testing (carried out regularly on samples of the population) also indicates that something like 17.5% of Londoners have been infected compared with 5-7% in the rest of the country. Although this is far from ‘herd immunity’ (which would require about 70% of the population to have been infected) it may mean that rapid increases in numbers of infection is at least initially delayed.

Airborne spread

There is now considerable support for the idea that an infected person can spread the virus over long distances through the atmosphere, although at the early stage of the pandemic this notion was rejected (hence the 2 meter social distancing advocated as being safe). There is an increasing body of evidence confirming aerosol spread of virus, and this is well illustrated in food processing plants. Detailed investigation of the huge German meat factory outbreak showed spread of virus came from a single worker in the factory, with infection transmitted over 8 meters and more, and did not represent community acquired infection being brought in simultaneously by a large number of employees. The implication is that environmental conditions and effective ventilation are crucial to preventing spread of COVID-19, but unfortunately government guidelines as yet do not acknowledge this issue or provide appropriate guidance – a clear example of following far behind the science.

Treatments

Government strategy is reliant on the development of effective treatments and a vaccine; this in part explains the half-hearted approach to contact tracing. Lessons learned in the pandemic have reduced the numbers of patients that die once admitted to hospital, and this relates to use of oxygen delivery via a tube in the nose rather than one in the windpipe requiring the patient to be paralysed with drugs and breathing performed by a ventilator machine. Studies have also shown that giving a powerful anti-inflammatory steroid drug improves survival. As the number of patients has fallen considerably, less pressured staff also have more time to give better quality care. There is no basis for the suggestion that coronavirus has become less virulent; if it were to mutate, there is also the
possibility it may become more rather than less harmful. The most likely explanation for rising case numbers overall with little change in hospital admissions and deaths is the fact that new cases are now predominantly in younger, fit people, who are much less likely to develop severe disease.

Vaccine

A vaccine is being presented as a ‘silver bullet’ that is just around the corner, however this is not the right message to give. There are estimated to be 170 research teams working on developing a vaccine, and nine products have reached large scale trials. To frame vaccine development as some kind of race increases the risk that a vaccine which is not very effective or has serious side effects will be rushed into use and public trust destroyed as a consequence. This would be hugely damaging and illustrates the importance of good public health messaging and the imperative of not compromising on safety through political pressure to deliver or the thirst for company profit. More important to bear in mind, there has never been an effective vaccine against a coronavirus just as there has never been an effective vaccine developed against AIDS.

Fairy tales and reality checks

The Westminster government continues to choose to stumble on through the pandemic in the hope that a vaccine or effective treatment will arrive like a knight in shining armour, effect a rescue and bring us back to what was once normality. There is precious little reason to think that this is a sound strategy. Its cavalier approach to managing this unprecedented health emergency has included closing down Public Health England on spurious grounds – likened to taking the wings off a malfunctioning aeroplane in mid-flight in order to ensure a safe landing. Basic demands from the public must continue to be for an effective FTTIS system, nationally coordinated but locally delivered and aimed at complete disease suppression; much improved testing, including local testing units and rapid turn around of results; investment in NHS infrastructure and ending the obsession with inefficient and expensive private contracts; honesty and transparency to win public trust and unite the young and old in a common purpose. Sadly, a conservative government characterised by antagonism to public services and one that prioritises business interests over public health is unlikely to be either self critical and learn from experience or to implement positive changes such as those outlined above. The price for wearing such ideological blinkers will be more suffering and more economic damage as COVID-19 once again inevitably spreads like wildfire through our communities. Perhaps it is only a massively increased death toll that will make it change course.

John Puntis
For Keep Our NHS Public

Latest News

Full details in the newsletter: Konp leeds newsletter August Bank Hol 2020

Summary

  • Privatised Test and Trace is a disgrace! Outsourcing companies leading the government’s flagship test-and-trace system have failed to reach nearly half of potentially exposed people in areas with the highest Covid infection rates in England. In the country’s 20 worst-hit areas Serco and Sitel – paid £200m between them – reached only 54% of people who had been in close proximity to an infected person, meaning more than 21,000 exposed people were not contacted.
  • Scrapping Public Health England. Further chaos has been introduced by an almost overnight decision to close Public Health England and give 10bn to a new National Institute of Health Protection under the leadership of conservative peer Dido Harding, who shares her interest in horse racing with Matt Hancock and is married to a Tory MP.
  • NHS Pay –  a national day of action to protest against nurses, junior docs and others being left out of a proposed public sector pay rise and call for a 15% raise. This would restore the real value of their pay to near 2010 levels.
  • Fast forward to Integrated Care Systems – The pandemic response has fast forwarded plans to divvy up the NHS into regional bodies, reducing the scope and accountability of local decision making and opening up more opportunities for private firms. These are keen to take on running infra structure such as planning, finance and human resources not just provide health care. Local clinical commissioning groups will fold with commissioning centralised within Integrated Care Systems.
  • COVID-19 and back to work – the outbreaks in workplaces strongly support the notion gathering credence that aerosol transmission is having much more impact on spreading the virus than was thought i.e. coughing, talking etc is not only spreading large droplets over a metre or two but generating fine sprays of droplets which can spread across a room and be circulated in ventilation systems.
  • 31 more procedures to be restricted – remember the original 17 – well here is the next tranche- not rationing of course but why else impose more restrictions on clinicians
  • Trade Deals: Lobby the Lords before 8th September.The Trade Bill passed its Third Reading in the House of Commons without any amendments protecting the NHS or Parliamentary democracy and scrutiny.However it will be debated in the House of Lords on 8th Sept. and the KONP trade deals subgroup have circulated a template letter anyone can customise (in newsletter)

Important Board meetings coming up:

Take care of yourselves and join us as, where, how you can! If you’re not sure, contact us for details, we have a range of NHS, public health expertise in our group.